Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Datuk Dr. Yacob Bin Mustafa, Accountant General of Malaysia

Datuk Dr. Yacob Bin Mustafa is the Accountant General of the Accountant General’s Department (AGD) in Malaysia. He is also a Chartered Accountant (Malaysia), Chartered Public Finance Accountant (UK) and Certified Practicing Accountant (Australia). 

Prior to his current position, he served as Deputy Accountant General (Corporate) and Deputy Accountant General (Operation) in the AGD. His career journey has spanned more than 30 years, in serving various government departments such as the Government Investment Companies Division of Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance.

Datuk Dr. Yacob holds a degree in accounting from University of Malaya, a master’s degree in business administration from National University of Malaysia and a PhD in economics from National University of Malaysia. He became a CIPFA member in 2016.

Please summarise your current job role, your career to date and how long you have been a CIPFA member

As the Accountant General of Malaysia, my main duties are primarily related to federal government’s accounting and financial management. Government operations mainly use and manage public money, therefore, it is my duty to ensure good governance and proper accounting procedures are available and are being implemented effectively. The ultimate aim is to increase financial transparency in terms of reporting and to properly discharge our accountability, which will be reflected in the Malaysian Government’s Federal Government Financial Statement. The financial statement is prepared with the main focus to help our stakeholders in making better and more informed decisions.

In order to achieve AGD’s mission, I also develop strategic business plans to ensure the sustainability of this department in the future. The business plans cover a wide range of areas including information and communications technology, human resource development, accounting offices and implementation of accrual accounting. Additionally, my team and I consistently strive to increase the quality and effectiveness of our service delivery for the benefit our stakeholders and clients.

What led you to become a CIPFA member/qualify with CIPFA?

The Government of Malaysia is in the process of changing its accounting landscape from cash based to accrual based. This reform was initiated by the Government Transformation Programme (GTP), Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU). In preparing for the eventual implementation of accrual accounting, government personnel must be equipped with the required knowledge and competency in overcoming any challenge. Therefore, one of the initiatives is to encourage accountants in public sector to get professional certification; especially in the field of public service finance.

CIPFA is the only professional accountancy body in the world that has exclusively dedicated itself to public finance – and it has a lot to offer in preparing me with the required knowledge and competencies for my role. Becoming a CIPFA member in 2016 has also widened my network of contacts around the globe. 

When did you first become attracted to a career in the public sector, and particularly public finance?

I became attracted to public finance when I was completing my first degree, during which I took a module in public sector accounting; I found it to be fascinating. From that moment, my ambition was to become a dedicated public servant with a mission to ensure public sector financial and management accounting in Malaysia would meet the world standard. 

Why did you choose the public over private sector?

In my view, working in the public sector is the best way to contribute to my beloved country and nation. As an accountant in public service, I am accountable to a broader group of stakeholders such as taxpayers, policy makers, citizens, elected representatives and non-profit organisations; I find it very rewarding because I can be part of the betterment of this country. I also have the chance to participate in the policy-making process and assist government in making effective decisions that best serve our nation.

What have been the highlights or biggest successes of your career to date? Are there any particular moments that stand out?

My greatest accomplishment was my appointment as the Accountant General of Malaysia. Holding the highest position in AGD gives me a sense of pride and achievement. Nevertheless, it definitely comes with a huge responsibility and higher expectations in ensuring the success of accrual accounting implementation for the public sector in Malaysia.

What have been the greatest challenges, both during your career and within the public finance sector as a whole?

Leading the implementation of accrual accounting is like a race against time and it is definitely a bumpy ride. I would say that it is the toughest challenge in my career journey. There are many obstacles that my team and I need to overcome, such as the readiness of our accounting systems, the issues of real time reporting, human capital, change management, accounting standards, policies and manuals. However, I am optimistic that my team and I will succeed.

How has being a CIPFA member supported you in your career?

The continuing professional development (CPD) scheme improves my skills and helps me in delivering the highest quality of service. It is also a powerful tool for acquiring the necessary public sector knowledge.

As a CIPFA member, I have a wide circle of professional contacts who act as an excellent source of viewpoints and ideas. By exchanging experiences with other members, I gain new insights that I may not have otherwise thought of.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And by who?

The following advice was given to me by my respectful senior. The gist of his advice was, the world is dynamic and continues to evolve and we must not be complacent. We need to be perpetual learners and always acquire new skills. We should always think ahead and be ready to step outside our comfort zone. Leaving our comfort zone is not easy, but we have to be ready to embrace new challenges that are happening all around the world.

What advice would you give to people who are beginning their career in public finance?

In this digital era, with the revolution of artificial intelligence and financial transactions becoming more complex in nature, public sector accounting is no longer just about bookkeeping. As you begin your journey in public finance, you need to strengthen your leadership, people and technical skills, and I strongly believe that continuous learning and embracing challenges are essential to your career progress. There is a pressing need for public finance accountants to obtain a distinct and comprehensive professional qualification that will equip them with the in-depth knowledge and exposure to become a future leader.

What book/film/podcast would you recommend to anyone working in public finance? 

Good to Great by Jim Collins; I would recommend this book to everyone as it continues to inspire me. An interesting point made by Jim is that “We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” The vast majority of public servants never become great, precisely because the vast majority become good and this point goes back to the comfort zone that I mentioned earlier.  

What would you say to somebody thinking of becoming a CIPFA member?

I strongly recommend all public sector accountants become CIPFA members because it is the only professional accounting body that exclusively represents public sector accountants. CIPFA will enhance your understanding of your job and strengthen your skills and knowledge.

Ultimately, becoming a CIPFA member will help you to demonstrate the technical expertise, ethical appreciation and practical skills required to perform at your very best in the public finance workplace.